Journal Article

The Politicized Pandemic: Ideological Polarization and the Behavioral Response to COVID-19


  • Grimalda
  • G.
  • Murtin
  • F.
  • Pipke
  • D.
  • Putterman
  • L.
  • Sutter
  • M.
Publication Date

In a representative sample of the U.S. population during the first summer of the COVID-19 pandemic, we investigate how prosociality and ideology interact in their relationship with health-protecting behavior and trust in the government to handle the crisis. We find that an experimental measure of prosociality based on standard economic games positively relates to protective behavior. Conservatives are less compliant with COVID-19-related behavioral restrictions than liberals and evaluate the government's handling of the crisis significantly more positively. We show that prosociality does not mediate the impact of political ideology. This finding means that conservatives are less compliant with protective health guidelines - independent of differences in prosociality between both ideological camps. Behavioral differences between liberals and conservatives are roughly only one-fourth of the size of their differences in judging the government's crisis management. This result suggests that Americans were more polarized in their political views than in their acceptance of public health advice.

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JEL Classification
D01, D72, D91, I12, I18, H11, H12

Key Words

  • Covid-19
  • Health Behavior
  • Ideology
  • Polarization
  • Prosociality
  • Trust in Politicians
  • Worries